Tri-Cities Help Inc., new food pantry, open in Elizabethton
A new food pantry open only two months has already handed out five tons of food – one point at a time.
It isn’t scrimping: It employs a unique point system to nudge clients toward healthier eating habits.
Tri-Cities Help Inc. opened on the Bristol Highway two months ago; since then it has served hundreds of families and distributed thousands of pounds of food to those in need.
“The first week we opened, we were so overwhelmed with the need,” said Director Rebecca Hanzl. “It exceeded our expectations.“
Hanzl said the pantry serves around 200 households and regularly sees 20 to 30 new clients each week.
“Since we have opened two months ago, we have distributed over 10,000 pounds of food,” she said. “That is a lot of food.”
Hanzl recently moved to Elizabethton from Gleason, a small town in West Tennessee, after her husband Dale died last year. She said they had always planned to retire to East Tennessee and wanted to do something to help the community so she decided to pursue their dream on her own.
“There is a great need here,” Hanzl said. “People are having problems financially, which means they are having problems meeting their nutritional needs.”
The pantry operates on donations and from items from regional food distribution pantries. Hanzl said they regularly receive monetary donations from individuals and families, and are searching for corporate or business sponsors.
Tri-Cities Help is different from other food pantries because of the way the food is distributed to families.
“It is completely different,” Hanzl said. “We have a point system that is calculated based on the number of people in the family, their income, any Food Stamps they receive. They get a set amount of points and then they can go shopping in the pantry.”
Each food item is assigned a point value. More-nutritional items have a lower point value, so families can get more of those items. The snack food items come with a higher point value. The food pantry stocks fresh meats, fruits and vegetables, dairy products and eggs, canned and boxed foods, breads and other items.
For example, a healthy cereal would be three points, while a candy or sugar-based cereal would be six points. Canned fruits or vegetables are one or two points, depending on the type it is. Loaves of bread are one point, while snack cakes are five points.
Fresh fruits and vegetables carry no points: Families are able to get as much as they want.
“We want families to eat healthier, but it still their choice,” Hanzl said. “They can get more of the healthy foods because they have lower points, but if they want to get the less-nutritious food, that is their decision.”
The pantry takes recommendations for clients from other agencies, and also accepts applications and walk-ins from families who are seeking assistance on their own.
Hanzl said first-time clients receive a higher point allowance for their first visit so they can build up their pantry at home. After that, families can visit the pantry once a week with their set point allowance.
She added the pantry also delivers to seniors or home-bound clients who are unable to drive to pick up the food themselves.
“They just need to call and tell us,” she said. “We know there are people out there who need it but can’t get out themselves to get the items.”
Starting in June, the pantry will receive Department of Agriculture food products to distribute.
This weekend, pantry representatives will be at the Tri-Cities Flea Market in Building 4 hosting a food drive to collect items for the pantry.
Tri-Cities Help’s hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday. They are on the Bristol Highway across the street from Biltmore Baptist Church.
For more information, call 707-0030 or visit www.tri-citieshelp.org or www.facebook.com/ tricitiesfoodpantry.
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